More stores close at mall

Two more stores — Old Navy and Charlotte Russe — will close at the Upper Valley Mall at the same time as one of its anchors is in its final days.

Although Upper Valley Mall Manager Brenda LaBonte didn’t name a time frame for the Charlotte Russe vacancy, she confirmed that the 16,500-square-foot space Old Navy occupies will become vacant this month.

Elder-Beerman, which has been in the mall for more than 20 years, is also closing this month. A hand-written sign on the sliding glass doors at the store’s mall entrance on Tuesday directs customers to enter through the doors off the parking lot.

Phone calls and emails to corporate offices of Old Navy and Charlotte Russe weren’t returned Tuesday.

The loss of both stores at once was due to their leases expiring at the same time, LaBonte said, and the overall demand of shoppers.

Declining comment on the mall’s overall percentage of occupancy, she said “the health of the mall is good.”

The mall’s health was on the mind of Penny Forman, who, wearing an Old Navy sweatshirt, had just left the store with bags full of bargains.

“That’s not the way you like to get clearance items,” said Forman, a regular Old Navy shopper from Bellefontaine who says she has bought and kept some of the store’s annual Fourth of July clothing.

“We choose to come here a lot of times over Columbus,” she said. “We’re worried about what that indicates for the rest of the stores here.”

It’s difficult to say how the vacancies will affect the Upper Valley Mall because each market is different, said Jesse Tron, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers. But nationally, mall vacancies increased dramatically during the recession and are just recently beginning to level off.

“We finally have gotten to a point where it’s level if not slightly decreasing,” Tron said of mall vacancies.

Typically, although it may not be good news for a mall, smaller stores that don’t serve as anchors are easier to replace, he said.

Even an anchor store like Elder-Beerman is not impossible to replace.

More often during the recession, malls have found ways to split the vacant space between two smaller stores, he said, to become more attractive to potential tenants and drive foot traffic.

Springfielder Jessi DeHart called Old Navy “one of the few ones I would go shopping in” at the mall. DeHart, who has bought clothing for herself and two boys at Old Navy, said she would now be more likely to drive to Fairfield Commons or another mall for more options.

Although she said she’s not a big shopper, DeHart’s mother, Bobbie Garrett, said she’d still stop by the mall to see what was available.

LaBonte said 2012 was overall a good year for the mall and said an expansion at MC Sports allowed it to do exceptionally well in sales of hunting and fishing equipment.

“We go through waves of certain stores leaving and we find stores to come in, and it’s been that way since the mall opened,” she said. “Consumer confidence recently has been down nationwide, (and) that has definitely affected shopping from coast to coast.”

She said Charlotte Russe staff does a great job maintaining it and said, “we’re definitely sorry to lose Old Navy. It’s a beautiful store, well run, and they have great merchandise at an excellent price.”

Other store managers and operators seemed to take the news in stride.

“We hate to see any retailer leave, because that always drives footprints into the store,” said Darryl Yount manager of the mall’s Sears store. “But we feel good,” he said. In what he described as a volatile retail environment, “we’ve had a strong year.”

Donna Graves, who with her husband owns the specialty store A Taste of Gourmet and More near Old Navy, said the store “will be missed, but I’m not overly concerned.”

In the year-plus the Graves have been there, “the mall has been wonderful to work with,” she said. “I think there are a lot of people who don’t realize what the mall means, especially to older people.”

Staff Writer Matt Sanctis contributed to this story.